Kerry flags ‘impressive’ health and environmental benefits of sugar reduction: ‘Sugar exacts a large environmental toll’

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Cutting 30% of the sugar in full-sugar sodas consumed in Europe is equivalent to taking 29,800 cars off the road for a year / Pic: GettyImages-Nitiphonphat
Cutting 30% of the sugar in full-sugar sodas consumed in Europe is equivalent to taking 29,800 cars off the road for a year / Pic: GettyImages-Nitiphonphat

Related tags: Sugar, Sustainability, reformulation

Taste and nutrition company Kerry has completed a life cycle assessment comparing the environmental impact of its Tastesense Sweet ingredient against the footprint of sugar. The result? “Reducing the consumption of sugar has impressive health and environmental benefits.”

Most of us know that too much sugar is bad for our health. Numerous dietary surveys and mounting calls to reduce sugar intake – alongside regulatory action such as sugar taxes – have ensured that the link between cutting sugar and personal health is firmly established. The World Health Organization, for instance, suggests that free sugar consumption should be less than 10% of dairy energy intake and notes that further reducing free sugars to below 5% of energy intake would deliver additional health benefits.

“All over the world, sugar reduction is a key focus of government policymakers and food/beverage producers, not to mention consumers seeking to improve their general health and better prepare themselves to take on COVID-19,”​ observed Otis Curtis, Global Portfolio Director, Tastesense, Kerry.

A lesser known fact, according to Kerry, is that sugar also carries an environmental cost. The company commissioned a life cycle analysis (LCA), which was conducted by Jacobs Sustainability Services, to compare the impact of beet and cane sugar against the footprint of Kerry’s sweetener solution, Tastesense Sweet.

Cutting carbon, calories and water use

The LCA performed ‘is a cradle-to-gate’ assessment, Global Strategic Marketing Manager Coralie Garcia Perrin told FoodNavigator. This means that it took into account raw materials supply, transportation to the factory, manufacturing footprint and packaging, she elaborated.

Getty-Francesco Scatena - sustainability biodiversity global warming
The environmental impact of sugar production is less well-known than the health implications of over-consumption / Pic: Getty-Francesco Scatena

Jacobs calculated the footprint of Tastesense – data which Gracia Perrin said could not be shared due to its proprietary nature – and compared it against an ‘average calculation’ for cane and beet sugar based on the third party sustainability consultancy’s database.

This showed it takes 1,110 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cane sugar and 640 litres of water to produce a kilo of beet sugar. From a climate change perspective, a kilogram of refined cane sugar leads to emissions of 0.42kg of CO2e, while sugar from beets emits twice as much at 0.85kg of CO2e.

Using Tastesense at the recommended dosage, Jacobs concluded a 30% reduction in sugar, which would maintain a natural flavouring declaration, would also deliver ‘impressive’ sustainability gains. The reformulation would result in a 30% reduction in both water use and calories as well as a 20% cut in carbon emissions.

“One of the major drivers of the differences in term of water usage and carbon emissions, is our in house bio-transformation process and the dose rate. Indeed, to achieve the same sweetness intensity, you will need in average 1g of Tastesense Sweet versus 30g of sugar,”​ explained Gracia Perrin.

GettyImages-lzf sugarcane
Kerry says its Tastesense sweetener is less resource intensive and requires a smaller dosage than cane and beet sugar / Pic: GettyImages-lzf

The technical report, ‘Innovative Taste for a Better Life and Planet’,​ also calculated the impact that potential sugar reduction in a cola beverage could have in the EU.

According to Euromonitor, 8.572 billion litres of full-sugar cola are purchased annually throughout the continent. The LCA analysis found if Tastesense Sweet was applied to reduce the sugar content of all of these products by 30%, it would save the equivalent to eliminating 68 billion sugar cubes from our diets. In terms of carbon emissions, this would equate to taking 29,800 cars off the road for a full year and water usage savings would be equal to 11 million peoples’ annual showers.

“What this life cycle assessment and analysis show is that, aside from the significant health challenges posed by excessive sugar consumption, the production of sugar exacts a large environmental toll in terms of water usage and carbon emissions. Therefore, reducing the consumption of sugar has impressive health and environmental benefits,”​ Curtis commented.

Sustainability ‘becoming a key discussion’

Environmental sustainability is moving up the agenda for consumers.

Innova Market Insights found in 2019 that 89% of consumers now expect companies to invest in sustainability, up more than one-third (from 65%) since 2018. Over 70% of global consumers told Nielsen in 2019 they would 'definitely' or 'probably' change their consumption pattern habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

Pointing to 2019 research from NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business, Kerry noted that brands marketed as sustainable have grown at 5.6 times the rate of their standard counterparts.

This means sustainability is moving up the agenda and becoming a more important topic in commercial discussions with the ingredient supplier's customers, Gracia Perrin told this publication.

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Sustainability is becoming more central to purchasing decisions / Pic: iStock-Grunfnar

“Sustainability is absolutely becoming a key discussion with customers that go beyond just environmental impact. Indeed, key areas need to be reviewed when it comes to sustainability: Better for people, better for society and better for planet.”

In this context, the ‘double win’ of sugar reduction, which delivers against population health and planetary health, is a message that she believes is likely to be increasingly important. “As we can see on the market, more and more companies or even countries want to implant labelling in regard to the sustainability of products. It will be critical to be transparent on that area to win on the marketplace.”

But does this messaging resonate with your mainstream soda shopper, currently purchasing full-sugar options? Gracia Perrin conceded that sustainability is not the number one purchase driver in this category.

“Consumers that prefer mainstream cola do it often for the taste. Nevertheless, consumers sensitive to sustainability might decide to switch to sugar reduced options to have a better impact on the planet,”​ she suggested.

On taste, Kerry says it has an answer to the challenges facing manufacturers who want to reformulate.

“The prime challenge in lowering sugar content in foods and beverages is finding a means by which to maintain the significant taste, texture and mouthfeel properties uniquely provided by sugar. Our Kerry Tastesense Sweet enables sugar reduction of up to 30% and the maintenance of a natural flavouring declaration while delivering excellent sweetness properties, appealing mouthfeel, and a clean lingering effect with no off-notes. It can help make a range of tasty foods and beverages healthier for people and better for the planet,”​ Curtis maintained.

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